1) Class Size Explosion: The Myth and
the Math. In their unprecedented effort to pass
the $23 billion edujobs bill, the National Education Association and its
allies in Congress are making some dire claims about class size.
running an ad with adorable waifs asserting that "classrooms are more
crowded than ever." Congressmen David Obey and George Miller wrote to the
Washington Post, "As many as 300,000 school employees are in danger
of losing their jobs. If that happens, class sizes will explode and
educational opportunities will decline drastically for millions of
Let's start with the obvious: There is
no credible evidence that "classrooms are more crowded than ever." The
contrary is more likely to be true.
NEA's own research (page ix) states, "The average number of students per
teacher declined from 15.3 in 2007-08 to 15.2 in 2008-09." NEA believes the
difference between student/teacher ratio and average class size is "9 or 10
But this argument is not about current
class size. It's about class sizes exploding due to threatened teacher
layoffs. Let's take a look at those numbers. We'll start off with round
numbers for ease of computation and use the worst case scenario.
We have roughly 49 million K-12 students
being taught by 3.2 million classroom teachers. But let's assume that
special education is untouchable. There are
6.6 million special education students being taught by
473,000 special education teachers. Subtract them out, and you have 42.4
million students and 2,727,000 teachers. That's a student/teacher ratio of
15.5. Using NEA's estimate, let's add 9.5 students for an average class size
Now we'll factor in the effect of not
passing the edujobs bill. The worst case number is 300,000 education jobs
lost, but let's err on the side of hyperbole and assume that all 300,000
jobs lost are those of regular K-12 classroom teachers. And we'll assume
that enrollment of the regular student population climbs by its recent
average - 0.1 percent or 42,400. We'll have 42,442,400 students but only
2,427,000 teachers. That's a student/teacher ratio of 17.5. That gives us an
average class size of 27.
So if we take the most extreme claims
and add to them, we can still generate no larger an effect than two students
per class - with special ed untouched. Some explosion. The last time we had
such an horrendously large student/teacher ratio was...
No one wants to return to the days of
the Clinton administration, but I don't recall NEA, Obey or Miller painting
it at the time as the nadir of American public education. We made it through
once. I'm sure we can do it again.
2) The Other Bailout.
While union lobbyists are struggling to get a bailout package
for school districts, they are having a lot more success getting help for
their own finances.
NEA and other unions have managed to get
both the House and the Senate to pass private pension relief as part of the
American Workers, State and Business Relief Act. Why would a public
school teachers' union be so concerned with private pensions? You can be
forgiven if you forgot that NEA is a private entity, employing private
sector workers. And because many of those workers are skilled in labor
negotiations, the benefits they bargain for themselves tend to be
substantial. I'm not privy to all of NEA's internal worries, but I think
covering staff pension liabilities ranks near the top. Hence the call for
Have some Kleenex handy
as you read this
tale of woe from NEA Director of Government Relations Kim Anderson:
"NEA's knowledge about
the severe challenges that private sector employers are facing in
maintaining their defined benefit pension plans has been gained first hand
through the experience of our affiliated associations throughout the
country, nearly all of whom maintain defined benefit pension plans – on both
a single employer and multiemployer basis – for their own employees. For
the most part, NEA's affiliates are financially stable, mature organizations
with predictable cash flow. These organizations take pride in providing
retirement security for their staff employees by maintaining well-funded
defined benefit pension plans. Yet, application of the stringent funding
rules of the PPA to plans that have suffered a drastic and unpredictable
market drop in the value of their funding, has suddenly made sustaining
those plans a nearly unbearable burden.
"And it is not just the
plans that are jeopardized by this funding crisis: many of NEA's affiliated
associations are being forced to postpone, curtail, or eliminate regular
services, staffing, and capital improvements, often on top of increases in
member dues. This is because, absent relief, the average NEA affiliate is
facing the immediate obligation to make funding contributions equal to 37
percent of its payroll, just to maintain its defined benefit pension
plan. Unless they are given some temporary flexibility in how to recoup the
severe investment losses of the last two years suffered by their plans, many
of these plans will not be sustained, and the organizations will be
substantially damaged financially as well."
Some of you may think
that this is a unique instance of NEA siding against government regulation.
But the union also believes the
Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act is too burdensome. We're
3) School Improvement in Detroit?
Detroit Free Press: "Detroit Public Schools' emergency financial
officer Robert Bobb said Thursday that he'll soon release a report saying
the district can afford to educate just 26,000 of its 76,000 students
without deep cuts to operating and long-term employee costs for retirement
and health care."
Would it be mean to suggest that if
Detroit were to educate 26,000 of its 76,000 students it would be an
4) Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying
Nothing. Isn't it time for a moratorium on stories
about teachers' unions trying to organize charter school employees? The
latest appears in
The Notebook, out of Philadelphia. In the entire state of
Pennsylvania, a grand total of three charter schools are unionized (out of
67), and the unions have been at it for
at least 10 years. Never have so many written so much about so little.
5) Last Week's Intercepts.
Intercepts, covered these topics from June 1-7:
News from NYC & DC? Meh. I'll take that kind of "pay freeze" every year.
DC Teachers Contract: Probably Good for DC, Probably Meaningless Elsewhere.
If this is reform, who can pay for it?
Teacherpocalypse Reduced. The still-working pink-slipped.
CTA Issues Non-Apology to Black Voice News. Miscommunication and
Quote of the Week.
"We are witnessing a familiar government dance, the Prosperity-to-Hysteria
Two-Step: When revenue grows, governments put in place permanent spending
streams; when revenue falls, governments exclaim that any retrenchment, even
back to spending levels of a few years ago, is a 'catastrophe.'" - George
Will. (June 6